Puzzle of Great Pyramid Solved. It's a New Mystery

Article excerpt

Byline: JAMES LANGTON

LIVE on television, archaeologists solved the puzzle of what lies behind a 4,000-year-old sealed door in the Great Pyramid of Giza - but found only another mystery.

The climax of a two-hour broadcast last night from inside the heart of the ancient tomb saw a specially designed robot crawl to the end of a 60-metre tunnel to end finally the speculation of what was on the other side of a small stone slab with bronze handles.

As millions watched, the robot slid a tiny camera through a 2cm hole it had drilled in the slab earlier.

There were gasps from the watching team of archaeologists as the flickering TV monitor showed that the tunnel continued a short distance - and then ended at what seemed to be another door.

Zahi Hawass, the director of Egypt's antiquities programme, at once pronounced the discovery "amazing" and "very important". He confidently predicted "something amazing is hidden here".

The truth though, was that the end of days of fevered speculation, stoked by National Geographic, which funded the exploration, was something of an anticlimax. There was no sign of the fabulous treasure of Pharaoh Khufu, the pyramid's builder, nor his statue, as some had speculated. There was not even a sheet of papyrus.

Indiana Jones would have gone home in disgust.

The real purpose of the broadcast was, of course, to sell the TV rights for millions of dollars. Fox TV, the America network owned by Rupert Murdoch's New International, secured the exclusive rights.

The 20cm square tunnel, in the so-called "queen's chamber" almost at the centre of the pyramid has been known about for centuries. It is now thought to be a ritual passageway for the dead pharaoh's soul to reach the afterlife.

No trace of the passageway has been found on the outside of the pyramid, but the mystery deepened in 1993, when a German team sent the first robot up the steeply climbing shaft until its path was blocked by the limestone block.

The latest robot, named Pyramid Explorer, was designed with caterpillar tracks top and bottom to grip the sides of the shaft. It was built by iRobot, a Boston company, and is based on a model used to hunt for survivors in last year's World Trade Center disaster.

The robot took two hours to reach the door - partly to allow for lengthy commercial breaks - and drilled a hole through to the other side. …

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